The queue winds itself through the barrier like a snake. The barrier is a sad attempt of bringing an order into the mass of people. The engines are rattling from everywhere and the horns of the Auto-Rickshaws are blowing a continuous symphony into our ears. The Indian way of experimental freejazz. Even worse than the yelling children in the night-train. And then there are these people, who continuously try to sell their stuff to you. “Hey man. Need Tuc-tuc?“ „Hello Sir, do you want a guide for the Taj?” “Excuse me, before you enter the queue, you have to buy a ticket over there.” I do not want to become part of this stupid queue, goddamn! Not at a Sunday afternoon, when the scramble in front of Indias most famous building rises to its peak.
I pull my mum through the crowd of waiting and pushing human beings towards a calm street that goes along the fort-walls, which surround the Taj Mahal. Before we could finally leave the chaos behind, a young man is talking to us. In his hands he carries some useless stuff, which he wants to sell to tourists. People like us. “Not go there, dangerous.” My mum hesitates. “Stop, Sir, you cannot go there Sir.“ I try to ignore him, but my mum stops. “He is telling, we are not allowed to go there, Nils.” “So what? He is just a guy, who tries to act smart. He himself is standing behind a fence, that he has just climbed, even though it’s prohibited. Stupid Idiot.” At places like this, you will always find people who are willing to mess up your plans just if they hope to make a little gain for their botched life. We pass an old gate and suddenly we are free from the noise and crowds. Green parrots demonstrate their flight-manoueuvers to us. Monkey-families relax on the old rocks and all this happens just 100m far from the Taj Mahal. While my mum is busy shooting one picture after the next, I take a deep breath. Finally, a peaceful atmosphere to enjoy. We also meet a policeman, who greets us friendly. So it is indeed not a prohibited area.
To see something or to get things shown to you
We visit the Taj at the next day. Yes, it is pretty, photogenic and most of all clean. You are not even allowed to bring wrapped sweets into the fort. And also no toys, which created a strange situation. My mum usually carries around the teddy of her deceased brother while she is travelling. The prohibition of toys at the Taj made him touch parts of my body, which are generally limited to a really small circle of people. But he has made it. Eventually, we shot a lot of pictures at this impressive building, which one should indeed have visited during a stay in India, because it shines so differently than the rest of the country.
This is why I also take my mum to the river Yamuna, which is running just behind the Taj and can rather be called the landmark of pollution. The small plastic-cups, from which the Indians drink their beloved Chay to then unconscionable throw them wherever they are, cover the landscape. This should also be a part of a trip to India. I like to categorize things in my head, so I distinguish between three ways of traveling India.
Indien als Tourist mit Koffer.
I almost wrote “India as a tourist”. But that would have meant that other ways of traveling are not tourism. Travelling India with a suitcase is something that I do not know well. But every now and then I got a glimpse of it. If you are going for that journey, you will probably book everything through a booking office and see the shiny, old buildings and places of the country. You will sit in A.C. busses, travelling from one sight to the next, sleep in comfortable hotels and eat toast with jam for breakfast.
You will mostly be able to save yourself from the annoying crowded streets of the city, but you will also see less, because people will show you what you need to see. You will find yourself toddling in you shoe-covers and overcoat Burkas through the Jama Masjid, where the locals doing their everyday business barefoot with a loose piece of cloth covering their hair. But you will see something new, get a hint of culture and discover a bit of the life of people every now and then. I can completely understand that people in a certain age do not want to share a ride through in an Auto-Rickshaw on the rough roads of Old-Delhi. Or take a shower with cold water from a bucket. I just hope that I won’t become like this.
Travelling India as a Tourist with Backpack
Oh yes, the backpackers. Completely individually they are traveling the country with the Lonely Planet in their hand. They meet outer backpackers in the Blue Lassi Shop in Varanasi, after they have “done” the South. They tell you how amazing everything is, whom they have met and discuss peace and freedom. Yes, I am also guilty. If we want to call it guilt. People who want to do backpacking travel to experience something, to find people from all over the world with the same style of life and same interests from different places. It is perfect to get an idea of the culture, of a strange world and also to discover oneself. But it is a bubble. Even if you do couchsurfing, you will meet a certain kind of human: The traveller.
But you can also be different. Some backpackers travel the country on their own, without guidance and spend their time with normal people on normal places and talk about normal things. It might sound like I am looking down onto the average backpacker, but indeed I sometimes admire them. I would love to have a chat with people of my kind sometimes. People who understand me and who simply enjoy life. But I also have to smile, when I see them filling their roti with vegetables and then roll it to eat it, because they have never seen, how Indians do it. And I even have to smile more, when I remind myself, that I once did the same. Somehow you have to start and not everyone needs to be an anthropologist.
In India as a Guest with suitcase or Backpack
I often help my friend Vimal with his work in the sweeper-community, but I would not say that I am a social worker. I do not have a contract, I am not told what to do, but I am here to meet people. I am invited and take part in the normal life. Since almost half a year, I am mainly visiting two places. In one community in the mountains I live with a family. I am “Bhaiya”, the big brother. In another community in West Bengal, I am living on my own. I am “Sir”, the teacher, who is voluntarily teaching English.
I do not see old buildings, museums or landmarks, but the simple life. I see how people treat each other, pay the local prices for Rickshaw-rides, food and cloths. And a little bit more attention, because I am a foreigner. If the people want to show me some places in the nearby city of Kolkata, I often say: “Nahin. Danyawaad.” I do not want to see Kolkata. I am comfortable with the green, peaceful suburb. I am just interested in temples, if the people really go there, without trying to impress me.
Why I love to be a guest
When my mum was here, we first had one week of backpacking. By the end of the week, we were done and I was unsatisfied. We had seen a lot. The desert, Old-Delhi, the Taj. But somehow we have seen nothing for which I started to like India so much. It was a mixture of polished entertainment and loud, stinky chaos. Where was my India?
So we went to friends. First on the countryside, then in the mountains. The places, where I found my friends. Where it is not too loud and where I have discovered the other side of India. Where Chay is served with joy, where unknown people invite/force you for chay during your morning walk and where they organize spontaneous shows for your arrival at the community-center. With dance and song-performances, that tears came into my eyes. When finally my mum said: “I wish, I could have stayed a few more days here”, I was happy. Happy that I could show her something that you can hardly see as a tourist. A true glimpse into the normal life. A life that is crazy enough to not get boring for me after four months.